I wrote about Tahlia's orphanage visit here while we were in China, but I tought I'd add some more details and pictures in this post. Tahlia's orphanage was the first orphanage we visited (we visited Jazzie's just a couple of days later). I highly recommend visiting the orphanages early on in the trip. Our girls were excited for the visits, but also a bit nervous. I think waiting to visit the orphanages later in our trip would have been difficult, since the suspense and the anticipation would have been looming over their heads the entire time. This way we got those two major visits out of the way and we had the rest of the trip to enjoy other things.
We were very fortunate that Winnie's dad also came along for the trip to Tahlia's orphanage. He acted as driver and it was nice to make the drive to Yangchun SWI as a family. The drive was quite long (we had some traffic issues) and we didn't arrive at the East Lake Hotel in Yangchun until evening. The nice thing was that the hotel is very close to the orphanage (maybe 15 minutes at the most), so we had a very short drive the following morning.
When I checked out the view from our hotel room I got a bit emotional, because reality hit that I was taking my first look at the area where Tahlia was born...
The area is actually quite beautiful. This was the view from the front entrance of our hotel:
Before we headed to Yangchun SWI (on the 4th of July), we took some pictures by the lake in front of the hotel...
I was surprised that it only took a very short amount of time to get to the SWI. We barely even had time to settle in the van before we caught our first glimpse of Yangchun SWI. So strange to see something in person that I've only ever seen in pictures...
You should know that we traveled to Yangchun SWI without a guide. When I was planning our trip, I was so confused as to whether or not we were required to have one. Different people had different opinions. In the end, we used a service who took care of our re-visit certificate (a certificate of permission to visit the SWI). They sent it to the orphanage ahead of time and we were told we could go without a provincial guide. We obviously did not need one since we had Winnie and her dad with us who acted as guide/driver/translator. However, if you ever need an agency to arrange a revisit to your child's orphanage, I highly recommend China Women Travel Service. Looking back, I think that we probably could have visited without paying for a re-visit certificate. It definitely helps to have someone who knows the language that can call the orphanage ahead of time to set up a date and time for a visit. I suppose it also depends on how willing the director is to work with families directly instead of dealing with government and provincial officials.
After arriving at Yangchun, we parked the van in front of the building and went to the office of the director, Miss Yu. Miss Yu has been the director at Yanghchun for many years and was there when Tahlia lived there. In fact, she was the one who handed Tahlia to me almost exactly nine years prior. She welcomed us very warmly and seemed genuinely happy to see all of us. We were given tea and we all sat around the table. Miss Yu gave us some general information and we were able to ask lots of questions through Winnie. We were handed Tahlia's file and I asked if I was allowed to take pictures of it, to which she responded that I could.
Matt, Miss Yu and Winnie's dad (looking at Tahlia's file):
Miss Yu took one look at Tahlia and said that she had no doubt that she was a Yangchun girl, because of the way she looks ("short, stalky and cheeky"). Then she added jokingly: "Kind of like me" ;-)
Tahlia sat next to me on the couch and together we flipped through her file, with Winnie translating for us.
As I was flipping through the file, I realized that we had copies off all of these papers at home. But then I turned the page and when I saw this my heart stopped for a moment:
This was new to me. I'd never seen Tahlia's footprint before until that day and I was so excited to discover something new from her past. On the following page was this tiny picture of Tahlia; another item I had not seen before:
Tahlia asked: "Who is that baby?" I told her that it was her, and it was at that moment that she started to cry. I think she was overwhelmed by being at the orphanage, seeing her file, and seeing the picture was just too much. She said: "This makes me very sad, mom"...
I took Tahlia into the bathroom so she could compose herself. Matt told me later that director Yu was actually happy to see the emotion in Tahlia because it means she is not afraid to show it. After that, Tahlia was fine and we finished looking over her file.
Before we took a tour of the building, Miss Yu gave Tahlia a gift.
We were given pretty much free access to the building. I have read other blogs and talked with other families who traveled before us and they told me that certain parts of the building were off-limits to them. We were able to go whereever we pleased. I am not sure why we were given a bit more freedom than some other families in the past. Maybe it was because of the fact that we traveled without a guide and there were no worries about a guide reporting any rules that were broken.
Next to Yanghchun SWI stands the House of Grace. This is the old building where the orphanage was housed before they moved to the newer, larger building they are in today. I don't believe that Tahlia ever stayed here, and if she did it was only for a very short time. The House Of Grace is run by a lovely couple and they operate on donations only, instead of government money. There was a baby there who I knew was going home to her American family a few weeks later and I had been in contact with her mom. I told the mom that I would check on her and take some pictures. So when we entered the House Of Grace, I made a beeline for that particular baby to see her, hold her and take some pictures. It was at that moment when another little girl named Maria came running over, put her arms up and wanted me to hold her. She was about 4 years old and when I picked her up she immediately put her head on my shoulder and held on to me tight. I was overcome with emotion, because I could tell that she was just so desperate to be loved... Tahlia and Winnie took an opportunity to show her some love as well.
Jazzie and Tahlia played with the other babies, took selfies with them and handed out hair clips. It was so nice to see both Jazzie and Tahlia interact with the kids and see them have a good time with them.
When we stepped back outside, we saw a young boy staring at us. He did not talk; he would not answer Winnie, her dad, nor Alex when they tried to speak with him. He seemed very interested in us, but he was also very timid.
Upon returning home I learned that this boy is a bit of a sad case. He used to live in the orphanage, but was labeled as "non-manageable". He no longer lives in the orphanage, but with the elderly people that live on the property as well. He is not available for adoption.
Since he seemed to be fascinated with us, I suggested to Jazzie that she give him a lollipop. At first he had no idea what to do with it, so Jazzie showed him how to take the wrapper off and eat it. It was really quite sweet...
After we felt that we had spent enough time on the orphanage grounds, Miss Yu took us out to lunch. It was a wonderful experience with good food. Tahlia wanted to sit next to Miss Yu and it was so sweet to see her be so happy to sit next to someone that is the only link to her past.
Yes, that is a dog sitting between Tahlia and Miss Yu! The dog belongs to Miss Yu and she takes her everywhere!
After lunch we were able to go to Tahlia's finding spot and put up posters. The posters contained the date that Tahlia was found, a brief line stating that she is happy and healthy and an email address asking to contact us with any information regarding the birth family. We stressed that we were not looking to gain anything, aside from sharing information. To date, we have not heard anything. I wasn't expecting to, but wanted to be able to look back and say to the girls that we at least tried to find their birthparents.
I am so glad that we were able to give this experience to Tahlia and to do it together as a family. Part of it was emotional for her and not all of her questions were answered, but I do believe it gave her a bit of peace. Seeing with her own eyes where she lived, seeing people that looked like her and meeting Miss Yu who was nothing but warm, kind and loving towards her was just what she needed.